BANGOR, Maine — Husson University has grown so much in the last decade, it’s hard to keep track.
From swelling enrollment to the expansion of academic programs to an overdue name change, new president Robert Clark has a lot of things in the air. That’s part of the reason he was drawn to the job.
“I really liked the idea of coming back with an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of Maine citizens,” Clark said this week in an interview at the Bangor Daily News.
Clark is a Maine native but has spent the last several years out of state, most recently as vice president for strategic initiatives at the University of Evansville in Indiana. He took over as head of Husson at the beginning of this year, taking the reins from William Beardsley, who served as the school’s president for two decades be-fore he retired and unsuccessfully sought a gubernatorial nomination.
Heading into his first fall semester, Clark said he has two main goals. The first is to provide more experiential learning opportunities, or more practical applications of what students are learning. The second is to get students, faculty and staff thinking more globally.
“It’s not just geographic,” he said. “You can never leave the state and still have a global perspective on issues.”
Husson is a unique institution. It doesn’t have the same liberal arts curriculum and mass of on-campus students as the University of Maine in nearby Orono, but it has a wider array of courses than, say, Eastern Maine Community College. It’s private, but it has a liberal admissions policy and competitive tuition rates, which attract a wide variety of students. It offers many four-year degrees but maintains night and weekend classes for its many nontraditional students.
It all has added up to success.
Enrollment has nearly tripled in the past 25 years. This year’s number figures to be about 3,500, according to Clark. Staff and faculty numbers have grown at nearly the same rate.
The school, which used to cater strictly to business and nursing students, now offers more than two dozen undergraduate degrees, eight master’s degrees and two doctoral degrees. Its presence in Bangor, Portland and Caribou has expanded to South Portland, Presque Isle, Calais, Eastport and Vassalboro. The acquisition in 1997 of the New England School of Communications, a wholly owned subsidiary of Husson, also boosted enrollment.
Husson unsuccessfully tried to launch a law school but so far has been successful with its fledgling pharmacy school.
Clark said the success of the school is impressive and he hopes to build on it. He knows Husson cannot sustain the level of enrollment growth it has seen in recent years, but he said the school can carve out niches for itself. He said Husson is primed for advances in health care learning and hospitality management and he plans to continue partnerships with long-standing community anchors such as Eastern Maine Medical Center.
“What I’m really proud of is the fact that we’ve become a real community resource for Bangor,” he said.